With tablet computers now replacing laptops in most households, it may seem an odd time to look at bulky desktop computers, but these big beasts still have their place, offering a price-to performance ratio that laptops and tablets will never touch.

Central to any high-spec machine should be Intel's latest fourth-generation Core chip, known as Haswell. In its mobile guise, Haswell has made incredible leaps forward in power efficiency, helping the latest generation of laptops break the 10-hour battery life barrier.

In desktop machines, power efficiency is less important, but the Haswell improvements are welcome, allowing machines to run faster and cooler than before.

I opted for the Haswell 4770K (around £270) – a chip that is visually identical to the popular fourth-generation Core i7 chip, but with some additional pixie dust sprinkled on it by Intel which allows it to run faster than standard, known as overclocking.

While the standard chip runs at 3.5GHz, the "K" variant can be turned up to 4.3GHz and beyond, effectively giving up to 25% more speed for less than £20.

The cooling fan included with Haswell is decent, but to unlock the full potential of the K-series chip a better solution is required. After much research I settled on the Corsair H80i, pictured (around £74) which uses an automotive-inspired radiator arrangement to provide water cooling to the processor. In testing this proved incredibly effective, keeping things cool while spinning the fans at a near-silent 500rpm.

Perhaps the biggest advance in recent years has been in storage. While nearly all high-street computers still come with a slow, mechanical hard disk, the smart money is now on solid-state drives (SSDs) that have no moving parts. They're more power efficient, but they're also far faster, eliminating the biggest bottleneck that computers normally suffer.

I opted for the relatively rare Corsair Force GT SSD (around £180). This drive is slightly less efficient than its popular GS cousin, but significantly faster than the GS and around twice as fast as most other current-generation SSDs.

The final area that shouldn't be overlooked is graphics. Dedicated graphics cards are usually marketed at games enthusiasts, but popular photo- and video-editing packages can take advantage of high-end graphics cards to provide a massive speed boost when editing.

I opted for the XFX HD 7870 (around £165). This card features myriad outputs for multi-screen systems and is fully compatible with Adobe Photoshop, Premiere and other media apps, making video-editing and batch-processing really snappy.

The result of all this gadget geekery: nothing short of astounding. The two-minute start-up times of my old machine have dropped to under 10 seconds while starting office apps and processing video happen in the blink of an eye.

It's also incredible for games – but at four times the price of a PlayStation 3, it should be.


Twitter: @grant_gibson